Saine's Year Showed Ohio Back's Skills

Ohio State fans wanted to see explosive freshman Brandon Saine touch the ball in 2007, and he rarely disappointed when he got the chance. The Piqua native carved out enough of a role to score three touchdowns and play a part in the national title game even while fighting a knee injury. Read on for more about Saine's performance this year and what he can contribute in the future.

If there was any doubt that Brandon Saine was healthy come the end of his freshman season at Ohio State, the Buckeye tailback answered any doubts in the BCS National Championship Game.

After all, the Ohio State coaching staff wouldn't have designed the opening play of the game, a pass to Saine, to go to the gifted athlete from Piqua, Ohio. Nor would the first play of the next drive been another pass to the 6-1, 220-pound back.

By the time the game was over, Saine had caught three passes for 69 yards and showed the versatility that hints at a productive career wearing the Scarlet and Gray.

"I feel like I can move pretty well in open space, catch the ball and run the ball well," Saine said afterward. "I just like getting the ball."

That first pass for Saine, who was lined up at fullback on OSU's initial play of the game against LSU, did not come to fruition, but the one that started the Buckeyes' second drive was much more successful. Saine was lined up on a wing along the left side and ran unmarked down the left sideline, athletically hauling in Todd Boeckman's pass for a 44-yard gain to set up an eventual Ryan Pretorius field goal.

Those were some of the same skills Saine showed while looking ticketed for stardom during his first three games at Ohio State. He opened his career with 10 carries for 42 yards and a touchdown against Youngstown State Sept. 1. A week later, he had just 28 yards on nine carries, but he caught a touchdown pass that helped Ohio State knock off Akron.

A week later was perhaps his most productive day as a Buckeye back. He finished with nine carries for 83 yards against Washington and ripped off a 37-yard touchdown run on the game's final play.

During that time, Saine showed off the strength that helped him earn 2006 Mr. Football honors at Piqua while leading the Indians to the Division II state title. His touchdown run against the Huskies showcased the track speed that earned him the state's 100-meter record at 10.38 seconds.

"It was fun to get in, and it really helped me to understand the game of college football," he said. "Getting in there, I think it will help me for years to come."

However, what happened next delayed what could have been a meteoric rise. In the week after the Washington game, head coach Jim Tressel announced that Saine underwent surgery on his knee to repair a problem with his meniscus, an injury that kept him out for two weeks.

Before the injury, Saine averaged 9.3 carries per game. Afterward, he had 32 carries in seven games, an average of less than five per game.

"The trouble is getting an injury midseason is just the pure practice reps are so low that when you do get back, you don't get many turns to do your thing again," running backs coach Dick Tressel said.

Saine maintained what Tressel intimated, saying that after his knee surgery he got back to 100 percent by the end of the season and that health did not limit him as his touches dwindled in the second half of the season.

"Yeah, I did (get back to health)," he said. "I'm back to 100 percent now. It just took a little while to get swelling out of my knee, but it's good now."

By the time the year was over, Saine had totaled 267 yards and two touchdowns on 60 carries while finishing tied for sixth on the team with 12 catches for 160 yards and a score.

Never one to be boastful even in the best of times, Saine said he didn't mind the reduced role as Chris Wells' talents became more evident. Wells topped the 100-yard mark four times over Ohio State's final five games, rushing for 221 yards against Michigan State and an OSU rivalry record 222 yards against Michigan.

"As long as the team was doing well and Beanie was doing really well, I knew with him in there the team was going to be even better," he said. "That's really all that matters."

With Wells returning, Ohio State might have to continue to find different ways to get Saine into the attack, whether they be lining him up at fullback, wideout, tight end or as a kick returner in the future, in 2008.

"He's a really gifted receiver," offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said after the game. "He's a multitalented guy in there for you and I'm sure in the future he can be more of a running back kind of guy, but he gives you an added factor as a wide receiver in there. That was largely his role tonight. I'm sure that will change in the future."

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